AI Weekly: Data analytics keeps attracting investment through the pandemic

Organizations are investing more in data analytics during the pandemic, a paper from West Monroe shows. A recent survey by KPMG agrees; the polling of C-suite executives found that data and analytics platforms are the most common new technology to be adopted, with 21% of respondents reporting the piloting of AI and machine learning solutions.

Driving the trend is a growing realization that AI can help enterprises maximize returns on investments in tech, mining the most insights from data. For example, AI can be used to spotlight parts of a website customers are likely to pay attention to, or help inform retailers about what their customers are likely to purchase.

“A positive trend to come out the pandemic was that organizations recognized that data was so important,” Sandy Carter, VP of worldwide public sector and programs at Amazon, told VentureBeat in a phone interview. “A lot of them came to the realization that they needed more insights in order in order to make the right decisions.”

How analyzing data can help

Indeed, most organizations have to wrangle countless data buckets — some of which have long gone underused. A Forrester survey found that between 60% and 73% of all data within corporations is never analyzed for insights or larger trends. The opportunity cost of this unused data is substantial, with a Veritas report pegging it at $3.3 trillion by 2020. That’s perhaps why organizations have taken an interest in solutions that ingest, understand, organize, and act on digital content from multiple digital sources.

Much of these analytics workloads are being processed in the cloud, which offers flexibility in how — and when — they can be executed. IDG reports that the average cloud budget is up from $1.62 million in 2016 to a whopping $2.2 million today. A Lemongrass survey found that IT leaders were motivated to migrate systems by desires to secure data, maintain data access, save money, optimize storage resources, and accelerate digital transformation.

Carter gave the example of Splunk, which worked with the City of Los Angeles to build a data analytics solution for its over 40 different agencies. The city wanted to take the 240 million records they create daily and use it to correlate along with other city data to gain insights. Specifically, they wanted to evaluate cyber threats,

Hacks and breaches have surged in the past year, due in large part to the pandemic. Canalys found that more records were compromised from March 2020 to March 2021 than in the previous 15 years combine. In one scary example, in February hackers attempted to poison a Florida city water supply by remotely accessing a server. And in 2015 and 2016, cyberattacks caused large-scale power outages in Ukraine.

With the help of Splunk and Amazon Web Services (AWS), Carter says that the City of Los Angeles is now able to evaluate 100 million threats each month using analytics, and to share the data throughout all 40 of its agencies.

Benefits and barriers

Challenges for some organizations continue to present barriers to adopting data analytics, however. Respondents to the Lemongrass survey reported pegged security and compliance as the top issues facing enterprises when moving legacy systems to the cloud. Separate research by Alatian and Wakefield Research found that data quality issues contributed to failed implementations of AI and machine learning.

Carter says that one AWS customer, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, suffered from a lack of awareness of what AI and data might bring to the table. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security agency, which administers the country’s naturalization and immigration system, expressed an eagerness to apply machine learning models to its data but without specific goals in mind. With the help of Amazon, the agency determined which insights might be useful to its employees, like the percentage of likely no-shows to appointments and the number of next-year applications.

Successful migrations to the cloud can lead to a wealth of benefits, surveys show. For example, according to OpsRamp, the average savings from cloud migration come to around 15% on all IT spending. Small and medium businesses benefit the most, as they spend 36% less money on IT that way. Moreover, 59% of companies report an increase in productivity after migrating apps and service to the cloud, Microsoft says.

“If you’re going to use analytics and you’re going to use machine learning, the cost structure, on-demand, and agile nature of the cloud makes sense,” Carter said. “A lot of organizations … hustled to get their data to the cloud, because they knew that without building, storing, and managing that in a data lake, use of analytics and machine learning would be would be inhibited.”

For AI coverage, send news tips to Kyle Wiggers — and be sure to subscribe to the AI Weekly newsletter and bookmark our AI channel, The Machine.

Thanks for reading,

Kyle Wiggers

AI Staff Writer


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West Coast Eagles beat Collingwood by 27 points in front of biggest AFL crowd since COVID-19 pandemic

Under fire Collingwood were left to count the cost on multiple fronts after a second-quarter masterclass from Jack Darling helped guide West Coast to a 27-point AFL victory at Perth Stadium.

Darling was unstoppable during the second quarter, booting three goals from strong marks and another major after catching speedy defender Isaac Quaynor holding the ball.

It helped propel West Coast to a 12-point lead by half-time, and they put Collingwood to the sword in the third quarter to run away with the 16.7 (103) to 11.10 (76) win in front of 54,159 fans — the biggest at an AFL game since the 2019 grand final, before the COVID-19 pandemic began.

Darling finished with 5.1 from 15 disposals, while Oscar Allen was also critical with five goals and four contested marks in arguably his best game at AFL level.

Midfielder Dom Sheed iced the game late in the third quarter with three goals in the space of two minutes.

The Magpies led by 15 points after an impressive opening term on Friday night, but the loss of star duo Jordan De Goey and Jeremy Howe to injury proved costly.

De Goey was subbed out of the game after copping an accidental hip to the face from Eagles midfielder Tim Kelly in the first quarter.

Blood streamed out of De Goey’s nose as he was assisted off the ground, with the extent of the facial injuries yet to be revealed.

Howe appears set for a sizeable stint on the sidelines after injuring his right hamstring in a marking contest during the second term.

The 30-year-old immediately grabbed on the upper part of his right hamstring after landing, and he could barely bend his leg as he was helped off the ground.

Buckley rolled the dice by sending defender Darcy Moore into attack, and the All-Australian finished with three goals and eight marks from nine disposals.

Moore had four disposals and a goal in the opening term, but his next possession didn’t come until the 10-minute mark of the fourth quarter when he booted his second goal.

The injuries to De Goey and Howe come at a bad time for the Magpies, who are now 1-4 and are also without star midfielder Taylor Adams for at least another nine weeks.

West Coast suffered their own major blow during the week when Liam Ryan was cut down by a stress reaction in his shin that could sideline him for up to eight weeks.

Defender Tom Cole suffered a horrific clash of heads with teammate Josh Rotham late in Friday’s match and will be assessed for concussion.

Collingwood bucked the odds to beat West Coast by one point in last year’s elimination final in Perth, and their spirited opening quarter would have given their fans optimism of a repeat result.

Ruckman Brodie Grundy drifted forward to boot two goals from two strong marks, while Moore added one himself to give the Magpies the momentum.

But the game turned dramatically from that point on courtesy of Darling’s second-quarter rampage.

And with Allen also plucking a series of strong grabs, Collingwood’s defence wilted.

The margin blew out to 41 points at the final change, with a three-goal fightback from Collingwood early in the last quarter proving too little, too late.



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U.S. Overdose Deaths Soared During COVID-19 Pandemic

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THURSDAY, April 15, 2021 — There were more than 87,000 drug overdose deaths in the United States from October 2019 to September 2020, the highest of any one-year period since the nation’s opioid crisis began in the 1990s, preliminary government data shows.

The death toll was 29% higher than in the previous 12-month period and the increase was largely driven by Illicitly manufactured fentanyl and other synthetic opioids, with stimulant drugs such as methamphetamine also playing a role, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported.

Whites in rural and suburban areas accounted for many of the deaths in the early years of the U.S. opioid epidemic, but the latest data shows Blacks being affected disproportionately.

“The highest increase in mortality from opioids, predominantly driven by fentanyl, is now among Black Americans,” National Institute on Drug Abuse Director Dr. Nora Volkow said at an addiction conference last week, The New York Times reported.

“And when you look at mortality from methamphetamine, it’s chilling to realize that the risk of dying from methamphetamine overdose is 12-fold higher among American Indians and Alaskan Natives than other groups,” she added.

Volkow added that more deaths than ever involved drug combinations, typically of fentanyl or heroin with stimulants.

“Dealers are lacing these non-opioid drugs with cheaper, yet potent, opioids to make a larger profit,” she said. “Someone who’s addicted to a stimulant drug like cocaine or methamphetamine is not tolerant to opioids, which means they are going to be at high risk of overdose if they get a stimulant drug that’s laced with an opioid like fentanyl.”

Overdose deaths fell slightly in 2018 for the first time in decades, but started to climb again the months before the COVID-19 pandemic, and had the highest spike in April and May 2020.

The pandemic likely exacerbated the upward trend of overdose deaths, according to the Times.

In the early months of the pandemic, many addiction treatment centers shut down, at least temporarily, and services were reduced at many drop-in centers that offer support, clean syringes and the overdose-reversal medication naloxone. In many cases, those services have not been fully restored.

Also, the drug overdose crisis has received less attention and resources as the country struggles with the COVID-19 pandemic, the Times said.


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Covid-19 UK: NHS waiting list hits ANOTHER record-high amid pandemic, official figures show

Boris Johnson today promised the NHS would ‘get all the funding it needs’ to fight the Covid backlog, with a record 4.7million patients in England now on the waiting list for routine treatment.

The Prime Minister pledged to help the health service back to its feet, as official data showed 400,000 people have waited over a year for surgery.

And the proportion of cancer patients who hadn’t been treated within the two month target after being diagnosed has also jumped to a record 30.3 per cent.

Medics said NHS England’s performance figures laid bare the true toll of the Covid pandemic on hospitals, which were forced to turf out patients with other illnesses during the national lockdowns. 

Cancer charities described coronavirus as being ‘catastrophic’ for treatment. While MPs called for an NHS rescue plan to cut down waiting lists as hospitals scramble to cope with a Covid-induced backlog. 

Mr Johnson said during a visit to a military base in Dartmouth, Devon: ‘We do need people to take up their appointments and to get the treatment that they need.

‘We’re going to make sure that we give the NHS all the funding that it needs, as we have done throughout the pandemic, to beat the backlog.’

A record 4.7million people are now waiting for routine hospital treatment, official data showed today as the NHS scrambles to catch up with a Covid backlog

Speaking on a visit to the Britannia Royal Naval College in Dartmouth, Devon, today, Boris Johnson said: 'We're going to make sure that we give the NHS all the funding that it needs'

Speaking on a visit to the Britannia Royal Naval College in Dartmouth, Devon, today, Boris Johnson said: ‘We’re going to make sure that we give the NHS all the funding that it needs’

Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth said today: ‘Ten years of Tory underfunding, cuts and chronic staff shortages left the NHS exposed when the pandemic hit.

‘Patients are now left paying the price with waiting lists at record highs.  

‘Labour is calling for an NHS rescue plan to bring down waiting lists and ensure patients can receive the quality care they deserve.’

Figures from NHS England show 387,885 people were waiting more than a year for treatment in February.

For comparison, the figure for the same month in 2020 — before Covid spiralled out of control — was 1,613.

Almost 4,000 Covid patients were being admitted to hospital every day in England during the peak of the second wave in January. Rates fell in February, following the effect of lockdown restrictions and vaccination.  

It has now been five years since the NHS met the Government’s target of ensuring all patients receive planned treatment.

Tim Mitchell, vice president of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, said: ‘The NHS had a brutal start to the year because of the second wave of Covid, and this is reflected in today’s figures. 


Fewer than 70 per cent of patients diagnosed with cancer were treated within two months of being referred for urgent tests by their GP — a record low.

NHS England figures today showed just 69.7 per cent of newly-diagnosed patients met that target in February this year. 

For comparison, the figure for February 2020 was 74.0 per cent.

The number of people seeing a specialist for suspected cancer in the first full year of the pandemic is now more than 370,000 lower than in the previous year — a 15 per cent fall.

And there was a six per cent drop in the number of people starting cancer treatment compared with this time last year, with no improvement over 2021.

The total number of people starting treatment between March 2020 and February 2021 is now at least 38,500 lower than expected.

Sara Bainbridge, head of policy at Macmillan Cancer Support, said: ‘Today’s data further illustrates the catastrophic impact of Covid-19 on cancer diagnosis and treatment. 

‘Whilst there has been a marginal improvement from January in terms of urgent referrals, the number of people starting treatment remains lower than we’d expect. 

‘Tens of thousands of people are still missing a diagnosis due to disruption caused by the pandemic, which could affect their prognosis.

‘It’s vital that cancer services continue to be prioritised and that those with cancer are not forgotten. 

‘To address the extensive challenges that lie ahead, the NHS urgently needs a long-term, fully-funded plan for its workforce, ensuring there are more dedicated staff are able to provide the best care for cancer patients, now and in the future.’

‘Although we did see the number of patients with Covid decline in February, hospitals were still under huge pressure due to having to separate Covid and non-Covid care, staff having to isolate or being ill with the virus, and the massive resource needed to support the essential national vaccination effort.

‘Although the most urgent operations, for cancer and life-threatening conditions, went ahead, hundreds of thousands of patients waiting for routine surgery such as hip and knee operations, cochlear implants and vascular operations had their treatment cancelled or postponed.

‘387,885 patients have now been waiting over a year for planned treatment. That is a year of uncertainty, pain, and isolation. 

‘People have been patient as they’ve seen the battering the pandemic has given the NHS, but how much longer can they be expected to wait?’

He added: ‘Hitting the inauspicious milestone of a half a decade since the Government’s 18-week target for planned treatment was last met, reminds us the NHS’ capacity problem predates the pandemic. 

‘We already had too few beds and not enough staff to keep wider services, such as planned operations, going through hard winters and flu outbreaks.

‘The symptoms were there even before the pandemic, but the problem has now become ‘chronic’ and needs ‘long-term treatment’. 

‘As we try to get the NHS back on its feet, we must consider how to future-proof our health service, so that vital and life-changing operations can continue, no matter what comes our way. 

‘We need a New Deal for Surgery, with investment on a scale last seen in the 2000s, to get back on track meeting NHS waiting time standards.’

The total number of people admitted for routine treatment in hospitals in England was down 47 per cent in February 2021, compared with a year earlier.

Some 152,642 patients were admitted for treatment during the month, compared with 285,918 in February 2020.

Because 2020 was a leap year, February contained 29 days rather than the usual 28 days. But the extra day will make little overall difference to the figures.

The year-on-year decrease recorded in January was 54 per cent, while in December 2020 the drop was 25 per cent.

Dr Susan Crossland, president of the Society for Acute Medicine, said: ‘This data shows pressure is high and growing despite the fall in Covid cases and this was prior to the country starting to come out of lockdown.

‘Just this week the workload in acute medical units has felt to many like the pre-pandemic ‘eternal winters’ we had been working through for too long.’

She said the ‘scale of pressure on the system’ was best illustrated by separate data showing that 700 A&E patients were left waiting more than 12 hours for treatment in March. 

For comparison, the figure was around 330 in March 2019, when casualty units were busier. 

Statistics also show 174,624 urgent cancer referrals were made by GPs in February, compared with 190,369 a year before – a year-on-year drop of eight per cent. 

But the proportion of suspected cancer patients seeing a consultant within the two-week time target was 90.3 per cent, compared to 92.6 per cent last February. It was just 83.4 per cent in January 2021.

Urgent referrals where breast cancer symptoms were present – though not initially suspected – were down from 13,627 in February 2020 to 12,199 in February 2021, a fall of 10 per cent. 

The number of people seeing a specialist for suspected cancer in the first full year of the pandemic is now more than 370,000 lower than in the previous year — a 15 per cent fall.

Fewer than 70 per cent of patients diagnosed with cancer were treated within two months of being referred for urgent tests by their GP — a record low

Fewer than 70 per cent of patients diagnosed with cancer were treated within two months of being referred for urgent tests by their GP — a record low

And there was a six per cent drop in the number of people starting cancer treatment compared with this time last year, with no improvement over 2021.

The total number of people starting treatment between March 2020 and February 2021 is now at least 38,500 lower than expected.

Sara Bainbridge, head of policy at Macmillan Cancer Support, said: ‘Today’s data further illustrates the catastrophic impact of Covid on cancer diagnosis and treatment. 

‘Whilst there has been a marginal improvement from January in terms of urgent referrals, the number of people starting treatment remains lower than we’d expect. 

‘Tens of thousands of people are still missing a diagnosis due to disruption caused by the pandemic, which could affect their prognosis.

‘It’s vital that cancer services continue to be prioritised and that those with cancer are not forgotten. 

‘To address the extensive challenges that lie ahead, the NHS urgently needs a long-term, fully-funded plan for its workforce, ensuring there are more dedicated staff are able to provide the best care for cancer patients, now and in the future.’ 

NHS England said staff completed almost 2million operations and other elective care in January and February this year, while also providing hospital treatment for nearly 140,000 coronavirus patients.

It said two in five of all patients who have received hospital treatment for Covid were admitted in the first two months of the year.

Data shows 1.9million elective procedures or support for patients took place amid the winter surge of Covid infections and there were some 2.6million A&E visits in that period, NHS England said.

Professor Stephen Powis, the national medical director for the NHS in England, said: ‘Treating 400,000 patients with Covid-19 over the course of the last year has inevitably had an impact on the NHS but it is a testament to the hard work and dedication of staff that they managed to deliver almost two million ops and procedures in the face of the winter wave and improve waiting times for them along with A&E and ambulance service.

‘It is good to see that people kept coming forward for checks cancer and other care with 22,000 who needed it starting treatment.

‘And the NHS recently announced a £1bn elective recovery fund which will be used to accelerate the restoration of services and treat as many people as possible, so we continue to urge anyone who needs the NHS to come forward so we can help you.’

But Dr Nick Scriven, immediate past president of the Society for Acute Medicine, said: ‘It is becoming clearer that people with chronic illness, such as heart failure, have struggled on throughout the pandemic with community care but have now reached the limit of their endurance and now need hospital inpatient care.

‘Therefore it is imperative to rebuild face-to-face teams in the community as a matter of urgency as these are invaluable for patients with chronic diseases.

‘We must put emphasis on the safe ‘flow’ of patients through hospitals to effective discharge home to enable front door acute and emergency teams to do their jobs with manageable pressure on staff.

‘While no-one wants to see waiting lists increase any further, the priority will always be to ensure the most sick and in need get their care promptly and safely.

‘The job of government and NHS leaders is to make sure systems are in place across the board so that all patients are seen at the right place, by the right person at the right time to really effect change and we are not there yet.’

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Echuca-Moama Bridge project on track despite pandemic

Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack inspected the Echuca-Moama Bridge project today to spruik the tourism benefits of the long-awaited infrastructure.

“It’s going to build these communities that want to welcome tourists from far and wide,” Mr McCormack said.

“But as we go through the COVID-recovery, this is also promoting jobs. It’s also making sure these places can be their best selves.”

First connected by a bridge in 1878, the twin tourist towns of Echuca-Moama have been fighting for a fit-for-purpose traffic connection since 1965.

After decades of on-again-off-again funding commitments from various levels of government and several community campaigns, including “Build the bloody bridge!” in 2012, the project’s first shovel hit the dirt in 2018.

The $323.7 million project, jointly funded by Federal and State Governments, is on track for mid-2022 completion.

Echuca Historical Society president Dot Hammond said she could not wait for a change in traffic flow for the border-town population of 30,000.

“Last Saturday morning, I ran a little trash and treasure shop in town, and I just sat and watched the traffic driving around Warren street in circuits.”

While Ms Hammond is one of many in the Murray community optimistic about the new bridge’s location, she is resigned it will open with a single lane.

“I’m happy with the new design,” she said.

“The extra lane would have been nice, but we were never going to get that. It’s all about money.”

Murray River Councillor Thomas Weyrich said the new bridge would not reduce the peak-hour bottleneck.

“It’s a disaster in the making — traffic is already bumper-to-bumper on High street, this will make it ten times worse.”

Campaspe Shire councillor and Echuca business owner Paul Jarman said his three businesses had been affected by poor traffic flow for years.

Mr Jarman said he was on the council and privy to traffic management and modelling before approving the new bridge’s location and was confident the CBD will see an immediate improvement.

Mr Jarman said the decades of frustrations of tourists and locals alike was the last thing on their minds as the project comes closer to fruition.

“The efficiency of the bridge being built over the last 18 months has been amazing to watch.

“We live in the world that worries about the micro – but when we finally have our new bridge, and it will be amazing.”

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How the pandemic election may favour Labor

In the shadow of the pandemic, recent ongoing Morrison Government scandals may provide Anthony Albanese with the necessary ammunition to carry Labor’s current lead to an electoral victory, writes Tarric Brooker.

WHEN news of the alleged rape of former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins first broke, almost everyone who was paying attention was abhorred at what had allegedly gone on in what should be the safest building in the nation.

But as the weeks passed and Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s approval rating remained near record highs, despite the repeated failures of the Morrison Government to adequately deal with the alleged rape, it became clear something may be amiss.

Even after yet another series of scandals and a botched vaccine rollout, the Prime Minister’s approval rating still remains within striking distance of record highs.

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One potential explanation is that much of the electorate is disconnected from politics and this certainly appears to be the case. It is concerning if this is generally representative of the broader electorate that so many are disengaged from our democracy. But for Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese, it also presents a major problem and a significant hurdle Labor must clear in order to win government.

In decades gone by, it’s arguably likely that the Morrison Government’s lies, corruption allegations and scandals would have dealt them far more political damage and claimed more ministerial scalps.

In reality, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has a 57% approval rating according to Essential, a long list of scandal-hit ministers hold places in the Morrison Cabinet and the Coalition is just four points behind in the polls.

With the next election campaign likely to take place amid the shadow of the pandemic, it presents a unique series of challenges, not only for Labor but also for the Coalition.

Scott Morrison’s political motives have turned against him

The Prime Minister’s myopic approach to solving problems and his focus on himself is only making matters worse.

Given the electorate’s heavy focus on household budgets and their own lives as the nation continues its recovery from the coronavirus, Albanese will have his work cut out for him as the public finally tunes in to federal politics for the main event.

In just a few weeks, he will need to get a disengaged electorate up to speed on the Morrison Government’s various antics since the 2019 Election. While seemingly a relatively simple task on paper, he will have to do so without sounding like a broken record, pointing out the Government’s long list of mistakes.

There really is no playbook or guide to this challenge. The electorate has arguably never been this disengaged from federal politics and no government has screwed up this consistently, and not found itself widely condemned by the electorate.

Early votes and postal votes are likely to play a key role in deciding the outcome on Election Day, making where the two party’s stand in the polls when voting opens more important than ever.

According to figures from ABC election analyst Antony Green, in the recent Western Australia state election 44% of voters voted prior to Election Day. With 34.1% of voters voting via pre-poll and 9.9% voting via postal votes which were received prior to Election Day.

If Labor can carry its current 52-48 lead in the two-party preferred polls until the election campaign begins, these early votes could provide Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese with a significant advantage if the polls are correct.

Not too long ago some of the nation’s political commentators were writing off Labor’s chances and claims of “electoral invincibility” were coming from the Prime Minister’s offices.

But with early voting almost certainly to play a major role in the upcoming election and deteriorating polling for the Coalition in Western Australia, South Australia and Queensland, the outcome is arguably far more uncertain than some media commentary would suggest.

Will the real Albo please stand up?

If the Albanese Opposition continues to let the Morrison Government run over them without a real fight, the Labor faithful have yet more pain to endure.

While Albanese’s time as Opposition Leader may not have lived up to his firebrand progressive reputation won over two decades in Parliament, Prime Minister Scott Morrison is losing ground.

Albanese faces a major challenge in attempting to connect with a disengaged electorate when the Governor-General finally dissolves Parliament, but the potential exists within him to rise to the occasion.

If the Labor Leader can craft a strong message of competence and accountability under a Labor government, while simultaneously pointing out where the Morrison Government has and continues to fall down, a Labor victory may be more likely than many believe.

After all, on election night 2019, there was a near-universal consensus we would wake up to a Shorten Government on Sunday morning. Now, with an election taking place in the shadow of the pandemic and with the ongoing rape scandals, followed by sex scandals, the slow vaccine rollout, and with early voting a potentially decisive factor, perhaps the pundits will be wrong yet again.

Tarric Brooker is an IA columnist, freelance journalist and political commentator. You can follow Tarric on Twitter @AvidCommentator.

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Amid calls to spend more time outdoors, some say running is seeing a pandemic boom – BC

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit last March, Forerunners owner Peter Butler thought business at his running store would slow to a crawl.

In reality, it turned out to be the exact opposite.

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“Starting about this time last year, we saw a sudden surge which is continuing to today,” Butler said of business at his store on Vancouver’s west side.

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Butler said the pandemic has inspired many people to take up running.

“It feels a bit like it was in the 1990s when the marathon boom was on and the triathlons and marathons all took off,” he said. “It’s a bit déjà vu, you might say.”

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Butler said some of the people who may have stopped running after the 90s boom may have taken it up again as health officials urged the public to spend more time outdoors during the pandemic.

Steve Mattina of the Running Room also said he’s seen a rise in business.

“People are doing the right thing,” he said. “They’re heading outside for their exercise and there are a lot of people coming back to a sport they hadn’t been with for years.”

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Shane Park is an airline pilot in his 50s who was a big runner in his youth but fell out of the habit as his life got busier. Now he’s back.

“It’s simple,” he said. “If you have a spare half an hour or 40 minutes, you can just put on your shoes and you can just go for a run as a sport.”

So what advice does Butler have for new runners or people looking to get back into it?

Butler says it’s often best, as the old saying goes, to walk before you can run.

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“I would suggest a program where you start with fast walking and then eventually put in 30-second bursts of running and then over a 12- to 16-week period, you get up to about half an hour or 40 minutes of running non-stop,” he said.

Butler recommends running three to four days a week to get enough stimulus while also allowing time to recover.

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As for Park, he says running is one of the best antidotes for the stress that comes with life during a pandemic.

“It doesn’t have to be a huge run, whatever suits you,” he said. “But after you’re finished, it’s hard to feel worked up.”

— With files from Paul Johnson

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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Small businesses on the NSW – Vic border struggle to find pandemic mental health support

The mounting pressure of COVID-19 recovery is impacting the mental health of small businesses, particularly those along the New South Wales – Victoria border.

Courtney Azzi could not escape the pandemic even if she wanted to.

When the border between NSW and Victoria first closed, police set up a checkpoint right at the doorstep of her beauty and wellness spa business in Albury.

“Just looking at it all day every day it was just horrible,” she said. 

“Everyone was just on edge all the time and just drained.”

Having just given birth, Ms Azzi was forced to take her four-day-old son into work with her as she dealt with staff shortages and other financial hardship as a result of the border closure.

“It was just constant noise and constant action all the time and it’s just not enjoyable to come to work.

“The hassle of getting to work, did products arrive, there were generators going all day every day, walkie-talkies going all the time.

“We would usually sell about 30 – 40 vouchers a week … I think we sold three in five months.”

 Ms Azzi said mental health has been a big issue throughout the last 12 months.

“You’re just on edge all the time,” she said. 

“Just as we start to get a bit of momentum again something else happens.”

And she was not alone.

Albury Business Connect, in conjunction with the Personnel Group, conducted a survey in October last year that looked at the mental health of business operators along the border in response to border closures.

General Manager Carrick Gill-Vallance said the results were confronting.

“There are a few gaps that need addressing,” he said.

“We identified that there was a real problem around people’s mental health within the business community and also a real problem in the system in that they couldn’t get themselves into a psychology appointment or psychiatry or counseling.”

The survey found that 47 per cent of respondents said they felt out of control of their own mental health as a result of border closures.

Mr Gill-Vallance said the business community has come a long way since the survey was conducted last year but is concerned some business operators will experience a delayed response to stress and trauma.

“Whilst we might be running on the adrenaline and the energy that we can generate through a healthy economy, we’re still yet to really experience the side effects of that stress and trauma that a lot of business operators experienced last year,” he said.

He said there was also an enormous amount of pressure on small businesses in regional and rural communities to do well.

“The regional and rural local economies are kind of charged with reinvigorating the national economy and being a catalyst for reigniting it,” he said.

“If the businesses don’t have the capacity to manage themselves or their team and their business through challenges like mental and physical health, how are they going to achieve the goal that is set on their desks?”

Mr Gill-Vallance said support for small businesses in the next 12 months is vital.

“This is when the bandaid will come off,” he said.

“That’s what we’re expecting we’ll see this year.”

Albury Business Connect has received $25,000 in funding from the NSW government to help operators manage mental health issues.

The organisation is currently working out ways to best spend the money so that businesses along the border feel supported.

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Worst may lie ahead for Brazil in coronavirus pandemic with deaths poised to pass US total

Brazil already accounts for one-quarter of the world’s daily coronavirus deaths, but the nation could be on the verge of a far greater crisis, global health experts warn.

The nation’s seven-day average of 2,400 deaths stands to reach to 3,000 within weeks,  according to six different epidemiologists.

That figure is approaching the worst level seen by the United States, even though Brazil has only two-thirds of its population.

Spikes of daily deaths could soon hit 4,000 after hitting 3,650 last Friday.

Having glimpsed the abyss, there is growing recognition shutdowns are no longer avoidable.

Restrictions on activity implemented last year were half-hearted and consistently sabotaged by President Jair Bolsonaro, who sought to stave off economic doom.

He remains unconvinced of any need for lockdowns, which leaves local leaders pursuing a patchwork of measures to prevent the death toll from spiralling further.

It may be too late, with a more contagious variant rampaging across Brazil.

For the first time, new daily cases topped 100,000 on March 25, with many more uncounted.

A dark-skinned man in white hat and face mask looks away as he is injected by white syringe
Only 2 per cent of Brazilians have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19.(

AP: Silvia Izquierdo


Miguel Nicolelis, a professor of neurobiology at Duke University who advised several Brazilian governors and mayors on pandemic control, anticipates the total death toll reaching 500,000 by July and exceeding that of the US by year-end.

“We have surpassed levels never imagined for a country with a public health care system, a history of efficient immunisation campaigns and health workers who are second to none in the world,” Mr Nicolelis said.

The system is already buckling, with almost all states’ intensive care units near or at full capacity.

Dr Jose Antonio Curiati, a supervisor at Sao Paulo’s Hospital das Clinicas, the biggest hospital medical in Latin America, said its beds are full, but patients keep arriving.

The city’s oxygen supply is not guaranteed, and stocks of sedatives required for intubation in intensive care units will soon run out.

The back of an ambulance is opened to reveal a masked patient surrounded by medical staff at dusk.
The spike in coronavirus cases means that Brazil’s health system is struggling to cope.(

AP: Felipe Dana


On March 17 in the northeastern Piaui state, nurse Polyena Silveira wept beside a COVID-19 patient who died on the floor for lack of beds at her public hospital. 

“When he was gone, I had two minutes to feel sorry before moving to the next patient,” 33-year-old Ms Silveira said.

‘Coordinated action’ needed

Brazil’s state-run science and technology institute, Fiocruz, has called for a 14-day lockdown to reduce transmission by 40 per cent.

Natalia Pasternak, a microbiologist who presides over the Question of Science Institute, pointed to the city of Araraquara as a success story after seeing its cases and deaths drop after imposing a lockdown.

Ms Pasternak declined to estimate Brazil’s looming daily death toll but said the trend is for continued growth if nothing is done.

“We need coordinated action, and that’s probably not going to happen because the federal government has no real interest in pursuing preventative actions,” Ms Pasternak said.

“[Mayors and governors] are trying to implement preventative measures, but separately and in their own ways. This isn’t the best approach, but it’s better than nothing.”

Minas Gerais, Brazil’s second-most populous state, has closed non-essential shops, while Espirito Santo state will enter lockdown this week.

An aerial view of a beautiful beach with buildings beside and mountain in background.
Rio’s Copacabana beach is deserted due to reinstated COVID-19 pandemic restrictions.(

AP: Lucas Dumphreys


Brazil’s two biggest cities, Rio De Janeiro and Sao Paulo, have imposed extensive restrictions on non-essential activities.

Their state authorities brought forward holidays to create a 10-day period of repose, which started on Friday.

President undermines health guidelines

Restrictive measures, however, are only as strong as citizens’ compliance.

And Mr Bolsonaro continues to undermine their willingness by painting even partial shutdown as an assault on one’s right to earn an honest day’s wages.

“We need to open our eyes and understand this is no joke,” said Rio’s Mayor Eduardo Paes, stressing that no mayor wants to cause unemployment.

“No one knows this disease’s limit. No one knows how many variants could emerge.”

A middle-aged woman in face mask holds Brazilian flag at front of signs in street rally.
Supporters of President Jair Bolsonaro protested the start of a 10-day period of increased restrictions in Rio.(

AP: Silvia Izquierdo


Hundreds of protesters marched along Rio’s Copacabana beach over the weekend, with many sporting the green-and-yellow shirts that are a hallmark of pro-Bolsonaro rallies, while declining to wear masks.

They chanted “We want to work!” and directed vitriol at Mr Paes.

The World Health Organization’s director, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, has called for everyone in Brazil to muster a serious response “whether it’s the government or the people”.

“It’s a concerted effort of all actors that will really reverse this upward trend,” he said.

“Especially we’re worried about the [weekly] death rate, which doubled in just one month from 7,000 to 15,000.”

Variants add to challenges

The spread of the virus has been turbocharged by more contagious variants which have become cause for concern beyond Brazil’s borders, not just in South America.

Dr Anthony Fauci, the top US infectious disease expert, said his team would be meeting with Brazilian authorities and are “quite concerned” about the situation in Brazil.

The US has seen its death toll plunge since January, amid a massive vaccine rollout, with its seven-day average dipping below 1,000.

By contrast, Brazil’s vaccine rollout has been strained, at best.

The government bet big on a single vaccine provider, AstraZeneca, while for months rejecting offers to purchase others.

Only after delivery delays from AstraZeneca jeopardised the rollout did Brazil’s health ministry begin buying vaccines — but too late for most deliveries to arrive in the first half of this year.

The nation has fully vaccinated fewer than 2 per cent of its citizens, which experts widely consider an embarrassment for a country long regarded as a global model for vaccination programs.

More than 500 of the nation’s most influential economists and executives wrote an open letter last week calling for mass vaccination, while decrying the situation.

They said that controversy regarding the economic impacts of social distancing is a false dilemma and all levels of government should be prepared to implement emergency lockdown.

While Brazil’s economy did not contract as much as regional peers last year, the worsening health crisis casts a shadow over 2021, according to William Jackson, chief emerging markets economist at Capital Economics.

GDP will return to pre-crisis levels late this year, at the earliest, marking a weak recovery relative to other emerging markets.

Monica de Bolle, a Brazilian senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington, was more pessimistic, and expects another recession in 2021.

“All in all, it’s a huge disaster,” said Ms de Bolle, who has done postgraduate studies in immunology and genetics.

“Could have been avoided… wasn’t. Very difficult to fix now.

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Road sign typo ‘sotps’ Italians in their tracks during pandemic

A misspelled road marking has provided light relief for Italian residents near Rome during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A sign on Via Regina Margherita in the coastal town of Sabaudia was mistakenly painted “Sotp” instead of “Stop” in bold letters.

Images of the error were shared on Facebook by the town”s mayor, Giada Gervasi, who stated that that company had apologised.

“Once again, no time is wasted in insulting those who have made a mistake in the course of their work.”

“I express my solidarity with the worker and the company responsible for the resurfacing of road markings,” Gervasi said on Tuesday.

The mayor added that the error has “fortunately made many people smile”, with some comments on Facebook suggesting that the marking should be left as a tourist attraction.

In another post on Facebook later the same day, Gervasi confirmed that the marking had been fixed.

“Sotp will return to Stop … it’s a small mistake that may have made people smile!”

Gervasi backed up her message of solidarity with the worker by citing a famous quote by former US President Theodore Roosevelt, who stated that “the only man who never makes a mistake is the man who never does anything”.

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